Investigators have gone to court to demand details about WikiLeaks’ Twitter account, according to newly seen documents – the first revelation about the criminal case Washington is trying to build against those who leaked classified US documents.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he believed other American internet companies such as Facebook and Google may also have been ordered to divulge information about himself and colleagues.
The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a subpoena ordering Twitter Inc to hand over private messages, billing information, telephone numbers, connection records and other information about accounts run by Mr Assange and others.
The subpoena also targeted Pfc Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying the site with classified information; Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian and one-time WikiLeaks collaborator; and Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp and US programmer Jacob Appelbaum, both of whom have worked with WikiLeaks.
The subpoena, dated December 14, asked for information dating back to November 1, 2009. Mr Assange said the move amounted to harassment, and vowed to fight it.
A copy of the subpoena said the information sought was “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation” and ordered Twitter not to disclose its existence to Mr Assange or any others targeted.
WikiLeaks said a second document, dated January 5, unsealed the court order “thanks to legal action by Twitter”. The micro-blogging site said only that its policy is to notify users, where possible, of government requests for information.
Twitter’s logs could reveal the internet addresses that Mr Assange and WikiLeaks supporters have been using, which could help track them as they travelled around the world. The information might identify others with official access to WikiLeaks’ account on Twitter who have so far escaped scrutiny.
WikiLeaks has released thousands of secret US military documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, more recently, thousands of classified US diplomatic cables.
US officials say posting the military documents put informers’ lives at risk, and revealing diplomatic cables has made other countries reluctant to deal with American officials. WikiLeaks denies that its postings put lives at risk, saying that Washington is acting out of embarrassment over the revelations in the cables.